We report that streptococcal cell wall (SCW)-induced arthritis in rats, a T cell-dependent chronic, erosive polyarthritis, can be prevented by pretreatment of the rats with the mycobacterial 65-kD heat shock protein. This 65-kD protein shows extensive amino acid homology with prokaryotic and eukaryotic 65-kD heat shock proteins and is a ubiquitous bacterial common antigen. Both the clinical and histopathologic manifestations of the arthritis were prevented completely when rats were pretreated with 50 micrograms of 65-kD protein intraperitoneally at 35, 25, 15, or 5 d before administration of SCW. In such protected rats, SCW-specific T cell responses were suppressed, as compared with responses in arthritic rats. Pretreatment with 65-kD protein had no effect on the production of antibodies against SCW, on a nonspecific inflammatory reaction (zymosan-induced arthritis), or on general cellular immunity in vivo (delayed type hypersensitivity reaction to a nonrelated protein antigen). Furthermore, the protection against SCW arthritis was transferable by splenic T cells to naive recipients. Our data show that pretreatment with the 65-kD mycobacterial heat shock protein protects rats against a subsequent bacterium-induced arthritis. This protection is immunologically specific and resides in the lymphoid cell population.

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